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Comsewogue teachers agree to pay givebacks

Comsewogue School District Superintendent Dr. Joseph Rella (March

Comsewogue School District Superintendent Dr. Joseph Rella (March 17, 2011) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The 300-plus teachers in the Comsewogue school district have agreed to pay givebacks next year of $4,500 each, becoming the latest of more than a dozen Long Island districts where unions have OK'd pay freezes or other substantial concessions to save jobs.

District officials, in exchange, have promised no layoffs during the 2011-12 school year. They also are increasing the number of teachers eligible for retirement incentives allowed under a state program, as long as the educators have at least 10 years on the job.

The giveback, which will come from teachers' paychecks in 20 equal amounts over the course of the coming school year, will save a total of $1.4 million, district officials said. Comsewogue, which serves Port Jefferson Station, employs 310 teachers and has nearly 4,000 students.

"These are hard times, and that's why we decided to do this for our community and our children," said Beth Dimino, the teacher union president.

Comsewogue, like other districts, faces a potential cash crunch next year, with the threatened loss of more than $3 million in state aid. The district's total current budget is $76.7 million.

District officials floated the possibility in recent weeks of saving money by laying off 41 teachers and other workers, and consolidating elementary classes. The latter move would have required shifting many children from one school to another.

Under the new teacher agreement signed earlier this week, only a few positions will be lost through retirements or resignations, district officials said. School administrators, secretaries and custodians also have agreed to pay freezes next year.

"It's shared sacrifice," said Joe Rella, the district superintendent, who added that residents surveyed have shown a willingness to pay higher taxes in order to avoid elementary enrollment shifts. "I'm proud of this community."

The new agreement describes teachers' concessions as increased contributions to their health-insurance coverage. Currently, local teachers pay 10 percent of those costs -- considerably less than the 15 to 20 percent paid in many other districts.

However, Susan Casali, who is Comsewogue's assistant superintendent for business, said the givebacks will more than compensate for the 3.2 percent contractual raises that teachers are due next year, plus much of the additional "step" increases built into their salary schedules. Casali added that a relatively small number of teachers -- less than 50 -- who are part-timers or full-timers with little seniority will receive less total pay next year than this year.

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